The Scarlet Letter of Oral Hygiene
Like I need another thing to have mom guilt over. Last week Laurel and I went to the dentist. Remarkably, she was excited to go (they offer princess toothbrushes). She even was OK going in the chair this time without sitting on my lap (required since she needed to get her first x-rays). Everything was puppy dogs and unicorns until the x-rays came back and showed that she had THREE CAVITIES. After my initial silent response of “WTF? She is 4 years old!” I felt:
Reaction #1: Shame. The dentist and hygienist were not judgmental in the least but I felt as if the scarlet letter of oral hygiene was draped around my neck.
Reaction #2: Guilt. Bad mommy for not flossing Laurel’s teeth like they told me to at the last checkup. Bad mommy for not launching my curb the sweets campaign earlier.
Reaction #3: Injustice. Why oh why are Jon and my families prone to head’s full of excessive teeth (he needed 6 extracted as a kid, I needed at least 2-3...the tightness of Laurel’s teeth is part of the issue; the cavities are all between molars)? And why oh why does my daughter love mangoes and pineapples and other various foods that shred and get stuck between teeth and thus lead to cavities if not properly flossed out? And how oh how could this possibly be happening to my 4 year old when I didn’t go to the dentist until middle school (we didn’t have insurance) and everything worked out OK?
I wallowed in my feelings of shame, guilt, and injustice for the week leading up to our return visit (yesterday) to get the first cavity dealt with. Laurel was actually pretty relaxed going into it, and then things started to go south:
First: the topical numbing treatment. She definitely did not like the taste of this.
Second: the novacaine. Laurel was so brave when they gave it to her, but when she sat up to let the novacaine kick in her eyes were watering and she looked at me with this “Mommy, why did you let them do that to me?” look (insert sound of heart shattering).
Third: the drilling. Working really hard to unclench my body when my teeth are getting drilled is one thing. Watching Laurel’s tiny body on that big dental chair with all sorts of crap hanging out of her mouth and the drill going at her is a complete other thing. And then the writhing started. I immediately crawled under the arm of the dental chair and put my hand on Laurel’s hand, telling her I was right there with her and that she was being so brave and that it would be over soon. She’s such a good listener and direction follower that yes, she was still lying there with her mouth wide open for them but she was sobbing hard, and instinctively could not resist trying to move away. What first was a reassuring hand became my hands clutching her hands and my torso cradling her legs; partially for support, but really, mostly to restrain her. I was terrified that the drill was going to knick her.
I have never had to restrain Laurel physically before, and it took everything I had not to cry along with her. Even as I recount this episode now I have tears in my eyes. I spent the rest of the day cuddling Laurel like nobody’s business and I couldn’t shake the feeling of distress the rest of the day. I kept trying to snap myself out of it, reminding myself that this was nothing compared to the pain that other moms have experienced recently (my heart is in a million pieces for the families of Maddie and Thalon). It was still hard. I guess experience is all relative.
Laurel’s reality, of course, was rather different. By the time we left the building she appeared to have shaken off the whole thing and was already asking about what we were up to next. I hope I can carry her attitude to the next two visits. @FairlyOddMother pointed out this morning that her kids’ dentist said, “Some kids have crap for teeth - don't blame yourself” and I am trying really, really hard not to blame myself. That just doesn’t come easy to me.